There is a word Native Americans use for what they referred to as The Place Beyond the Pines (in those words, more or less). That word is Schenectady, which is where this movie takes place.
It begins when “Luke Glanton” (Ryan Gosling) walks out of his dressing room and heads for his motorcycle. He is part of a carnival and rides that motorcycle along with two other riders inside a metal ball. The danger is obvious but there is no fear to be seen or sensed in Luke.
A woman shows up for his performance, a woman from his past.
“Romina” (Eva Mendes) is a woman that he once had a relationship with. He left without saying goodbye and she just wanted to see him before the carnival left town. It is only there once a year. But curious as to why she showed up now, Luke goes to her house and learns that he has a son.
He decides to stay in town. Soon, he is living in a trailer owned by “Robin” (Ben Mendelsohn), who also gives him some work as a mechanic. But it isn’t enough to get by on and provide for Romina and their son, and soon Luke is willing to go along with Robin’s scheme to rob local banks. This will put Luke into conflict with Officer “Avery Cross” (Bradley Cooper), a law school graduate whose wife “Jennifer” (Rose Byrne) doesn’t want him working as a cop.
There are really three segments of this film, shown in linear structure but nicely woven together. The opening segment involves Luke and the problems he faces in changing his life to regain Romina and be a good father. The middle segment involves Avery dealing with corruption within his police department, and changing his future. But it is the film’s third segment that is the most interesting. Luke and Romina’s son “Jason” (Dane DeHaan) is attending the local high school when “AJ” (Emory Cohen) becomes a student there. AJ is the son of Cross and has come to live with his father, who is now a candidate for the office of state’s Attorney General. There are unresolved issues involving Avery, AJ and Jason that will be resolved before the film ends.
The trio of segments are self-contained and could have been broken up easily into three one-hour TV dramas. But it belongs on the big screen. It is taut and fraught with tension, and has a very pleasing look to it. The acting and direction are superb, especially the two young men portraying the teenagers who might have been friends if it weren’t for the actions of their fathers when they were infants. Ray Liotta does corrupt better than almost any actor of his generation and is always a joy to watch. This might be the best work Mendes has done thus far. The Place Beyond the Pines is a great place for a moviegoer to be.